A little-known amendment on workplace lactation sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley became law with the passage of health care reform by Congress last month. Since then, there have been a trickle of articles discussing the new federal requirement, what it means for the business community, and why workplace lactation has been such an obstacle for new mothers.
In a New York Times Magazine article “Motherlode,” Lisa Belkin explains the new requirement:
Section 4207 of the [health care] bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to include the guarantee of “a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk,” for nonexempt hourly workers, and also the stipulation that this be done in “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.”
This provision applies to all employers, and employees are not guaranteed pay for the time they take to breastfeed. However, this is a major victory for breastfeeding advocates and for working moms who have faced a challenging time breastfeeding at work.
Erin Grace details some of the challenges faced by working moms so far in an article published by the Omaha World-Herald, “Breastfeeding Moms Get a Break.”
Yet breast-feeding rates fall off a cliff by the time an infant turns 3 months old. Not coincidentally, that’s when working mothers run out of time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Some women in lower-paying, service-oriented positions either don’t ask for the time to pump or are denied it, said Diane Rosenthal, coordinator of the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program at the Charles Drew Health Center near North 30th and Grant Streets.
“I think a lot of them stop before they decide to go back to work because they don’t want to fool with it,” she said.
Others, however, were luckier. Larger employers that already implemented lactation programs years ago will not be hurt or affected by the new federal requirement.
First National Bank of Omaha has had [a lactation program] since 1994. Some 40 employees and their spouses, if they wish are currently using the bank’s services: lactation rooms with a fridge and glider chair, lactation consultant, discount on nursing products and $50 off the Medela Pump In Style, which currently retails at Target for about $280.
At ConAgra Foods, employees can reserve private lactation rooms via the computer. The company pays for the first six months of breast-pump rental and provides access to a lactation consultant and a 24-hour nurse line.
Corporate Voices for Working Families applauds these businesses for offering lactation programs, and for understanding that they are not only good for working families, they are good for business. Lactation programs help new mothers integrate back into the workplace, increase employee engagement and morale, and help reduce illnesses and sick days taken.
It is for these reasons that Corporate Voices published a workplace lactation toolkit that offers a practical, user-friendly guide for managers telling them how and why to start a lactation program, and it offers information to new mothers about how and why to breastfeed, and how to talk to others about it.
As not all businesses will immediately know about the new federal lactation requirement, Corporate Voices will work to educate the business community about it, and will continue to explain the benefits workplace lactation offers to both businesses and employees.